CAMP POINT, Ill. -- Central Junior High seventh-grader Sophia Genenbacher turned into an artist on Wednesday using some unlikely tools.
With a hair dryer and glue gun along with red, white and blue crayons, Sophia created the design for what will be a one-of-a-kind patriotic magnet souvenir just in time for Veterans Day.
She and sixth-grader Agnes Genenbacher carefully glued crayons to the edge of a small piece of canvas while fifth-grader Adi Foss painted blue letters spelling out USA on her design. Once the crayons and paint dry, they use the hair dryer to "melt" some of the crayons, adding color and texture to the design.
"It takes a little more technique than I thought," seventh-grade English and literature teacher Amanda Shoopman said. "You get a lot of wax everywhere."
But it's worth it to provide a small token of appreciation for area veterans.
"They served our country," Sophia said. "It's nice to do something for them."
Wednesday afternoon's Operation Appreciation prepared the school for Veterans Day and the building's 12th annual Take a Vet to School Day. Some 60 veterans are expected to join students for Monday's special activities including an all-school assembly, taste-testing MREs and viewing a military timeline.
"The first few years we started decorating the hallways, there was so much pressure on the teachers to get everything done, so we decided we should get kids involved in this too," Shoopman said.
So the school's Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, or PBIS, team named it Operation Appreciation and developed 11 stations for students to help with preparations. Taking time out of the classroom, students decorated halls, created centerpieces or placemats, designed an obstacle course, practiced a song to perform on Monday and set up a photo booth.
Most popular was the obstacle course station where students tried to "simulate kind of what boot camp would be like," eighth-grader Cole Petersen said.
Groups arranged rows of tires to run through, a tackling dummy and mats to jump over. "I like the tackling dummy," Cole said. "It's pretty cool."
In the hallway outside the gym, sixth-grader Kaitlynn Brown cut out hand shapes from white paper destined to decorate a bulletin board while other students added streamers, crepe paper and red, white and blue balloons to another stretch of hallway.
Back in a classroom, groups of students decorated gift bags for the veterans, filled small bags with mints and created designs on circles of paper to turn into buttons.
Seventh-grader Carter Lee worked on all three projects, drawing an American flag to decorate a button.
"I think this is a really nice thing for us to do. I'm looking forward to seeing all the vets," he said.
Shoopman said students take ownership of the event by helping with its preparations.
"It makes them proud to see how it comes together," she said. "We really have a good time with it."
With parent-teacher conferences slated for Thursday and Friday, "parents can see what the kids have worked on and achieved," Shoopman said. "When we can bring history to life, they get more out of it than just reading in a textbook or watching a video."
Cole said spending time preparing to honor those who helped make history is fun.
"It's always nice to see the vets and let them know that we appreciate them," he said.